If you’ve been shopping at your local home center or lumberyard lately, you know that any lumber or other building materials you purchase can represent a pretty sizable investment. So when you get the materials home, it only makes sense to store them in a manner that protects them against breakage, warping and other forms of physical damage.

  • Plywood and other sheet and panel products: To reduce the chances of bowing or other distortion, sheets of plywood and other panel products, such as oriented strand board, (OSB) should be stacked and stored flat whenever possible. If you must lean the sheets against a wall or other support, do it so that the long dimension of the sheet is parallel with the floor. If leaning the sheets with the short dimension against the floor is your only alternative, place 2x4s or other supports behind the sheets to prevent bowing in the middle.

    Exterior-rated materials (exterior plywood, OSB, etc.) can be safely stored outside, but they should be covered – remember that most exterior-grade materials are rated for intermittent moisture exposure, not constant direct wetting. To protect against ground moisture, place some scrap 2x4s or a sheet of plastic on the ground before stacking the first sheet. When all the sheets have been stacked, cover them loosely with a tarp or more plastic sheeting. Remember that uncured concrete gives off a considerable amount of moisture as it dries, so the same precautions need to be taken when stacking materials on a fresh concrete slab, driveway or patio.

    Interior-rated materials such as drywall, particleboard and other materials that are easily damaged by moisture should only be stored inside. If you must temporarily store them outside the house while you’re working, they need to be completely under cover (in a carport or on a covered porch, for example), and, since high humidity levels can damage the materials also, the storage period should never exceed one or two days.

  • Lumber: Much of today’s lumber has a higher moisture content that what was available in years past, and as a result it is much more prone to warpage as it dries. If you’ve had a large quantity of lumber delivered to the site from the lumberyard and it arrives with metal banding around it, leave it banded until you’re ready for it. Also, don’t have all your lumber delivered at once – the longer it sits on-site unbanded, the more likely it is to warp – so get your floor joists delivered, then your wall studs, etc.

    Lumber definitely should be stored flat on the ground. Stacking lumber up against a wall is not only bad for the lumber – it’s almost sure to bend and warp in the middle – it’s also very dangerous, since it’s easy for one piece or even the whole stack to slide over and come crashing down on someone.

    The more protection you can give the lumber from rain and direct sun, the better. Keep the lumber stack up off the ground by placing it on 2×4 scraps. If you must place it directly on the ground, put some plastic down first, and make sure that the ground is level and flat – use scraps of wood to support the stack of lumber over any uneven areas. Place a cover tarp loosely over the lumber stack so that air can circulate freely – don’t wrap the stack tightly in plastic, since this will trap moisture from the wood under the tarp.

  • I-joists: Wooden I-joists are very strong in their normal upright position, but quite flexible when laid flat. As a result, I-joists need to be stored so that the long dimension of the joist is parallel with the ground and the joist is upright rather than flat – when viewed from the end of the stack, they should look like a letter “I.” Again, keep the stack loosely covered to offer protection against sun and moisture.

    When the joists have been laid out on the foundation ready for installation, it’s very important that you not walk on them. An I-joist is very tall in relation to the width of the top and bottom flanges, and until they are completely installed and blocked they are extremely prone to tipping over. For the same reason, do not temporarily store other materials such as plywood subfloor on top of the joists.

  • Freeze-prone materials: Many people don’t realize that a lot of the materials used in construction contain water, and therefore are prone to damage from freezing – even storing them in an enclosed garage might not be safe during a particularly cold winter. These materials include latex paint, latex caulking products, drywall cement, many types of wood glue and other adhesives, and a variety of other products.

    Check the label on the container before storing the item. If it says “Protect From Freezing,” take the warning seriously and store it in an area where the temperature will not get below about 45 degrees. If you have to work in an area that’s colder than that, or if you have to transport materials in an unheated vehicle, use an ice chest or picnic cooler for temporary protection against the cold.

    If you suspect that a product has been frozen at one time – you can usually tell by the altered texture of the product when you go to use it – it’s best to simply discard it. Building materials that have been frozen will not perform nearly as well as they should, and are very prone to failure after they’ve been applied.


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